The Anaheim Ducks find themselves in a strange position for a small market team: cap trouble.
The Ducks have key restricted free agents they need to keep in order to stay competitive into the future. Sami Vatanen has been taken off the list after signing a four-year, 19.5 million dollar extension.
Unfortunately, the team is hampered by bad contract decisions and the regression of Simon Despres, largely due to injury.
We've spent most of the year wondering who will be shipped off to make the Ducks more cap compliant going into the 2016-17 season. However, it might be possible for the Ducks to keep that defensive core together and improve at the same time. There are of course some caveats. First, and most importantly, the Samuelis need to be willing to spend to the cap. Second, Murray will have to let go of some players, and we know he struggles with that.
Currently, the Ducks have eight forwards, six defenders, and one goalie under contract for next season at a cap hit of $57.304166 million. I've converted the millions to decimals, because it helps me math better. That number includes the .5 million we retained to move Patrick Maroon, and .216666 million for the Mark Fistric buyout. Nate Thompson recently had shoulder surgery that will leave him sidelined for 5-6 months, bringing our forward total to seven and our cap space to 15.695 million and some change.
To fill out the 23 man roster, we need at least: one goalie, one defenseman (presumably Hampus Lindholm), and seven orwards. That last number is the killer. So, nine roster spots with 15.695 million in cap space is the task.
Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, and Clayton Stoner are the biggest problems. However, Simon Despres' 3.7 is looking worse with every concussion. Kesler and Bieksa have no movement clauses; they aren't going anywhere. Stoner's numbers have improved playing with Vatanen and I think he's very movable. Despres might movable, but that would take Murray robbing someone blind. I don't know if that can happen. Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg are the only forward contracts that can be easily moved.
The First Step:
The Ducks need to be on the phone with Toronto ASAP. Those deep pockets make it possible for Toronto to absorb cash and facilitate more trades. More importantly, they have a surplus of what we want: forwards. The Leafs have only four defenders under contract, and they haven't had stable goaltending in years. Anaheim can't keep Andersen if they want to keep the D together; he'll be too expensive. Toronto probably doesn't want to deal with another up-and-coming back-up goaltender, making Andersen a very nice possibility.
I think James Van Riemsdyk would be the perfect option for the Ducks top-6, due to his affordability and power forward skill set. What I didn't originally think of doing was including Silfverberg as part of the deal. Credit there goes to Benny. I think the Ducks should consider moving Silfverberg, Stoner, Andersen and their first round pick this year for JVR, Joffrey Lupul at half his salary, and Toronto's second round pick this year.
Andersen is gone. Using him to get an affordable top-6 forward makes sense. Silfverberg makes losing a young JVR more palatable for Toronto. He's two years younger, a little closer to their core of forwards. Silf is the incentive to pry the better player out of a team that doesn't need to trade him. Stoner is the piece Toronto takes to help facilitate moving Lupul, a contract they'd like to be rid of. Stoner is a surplus contract on the blue line. We can't pay 3.25 million for a 7th defenseman. Lupul is made of gingerbread, but he scores goals at a rate close to Silfverberg. Lupuls' goals per 60 is .67 and Silf's is .80. Over the course of 1000 ES minutes, that's about a 2 goal difference. Lupul is still a decent third line scoring option when he's healthy. The logic is simple. JVR is an upgrade on Silf. Lupul can't do many of the things Silf can do, but he can score a little as a depth forward or even with the Twins. We get two forward spots for a forward and a defensemen, and we save .125M in the process.Moving down to the first pick of the second round is the cherry on top for Toronto, but not necessarily key to making this deal happen.
Six forwards, two defensemen, one goalie, 15.825 in cap space.
This was difficult. The Ducks need a viable back-up for Gibson, but they also can't pay any money for him...conundrum. I have two ideas. The first is to see if there's any chance in hell to pry Michal Neuvirth out of Philadelphia. He has a career .914 SV%. The goalie market will be flush this offseason, especially if we can sell Andersen early. We can't afford to pay for the better goalies in free agency, such as James Reimer. Neuvirth carries a 1.625 cap hit. I think the name recognition and the strong finish provides more confidence in Neuvirth as a back-up. However, my top choice would probably be Al Montoya. He has a career .909 SV%, but every year he's played more than 1000 minutes his SV% has been .919 or better, except the 2011-12 campaign with the Islanders. I think Montoya is old enough to not pose a serious threat to Gibson as the starter, but has enough experience to spell as the starter for small stints. More importantly, he only cost 1.05 to perform that role for Florida. Montoya has been with 3 different teams in the past 6 seasons. I think if we offer him more years he'll meet a lower price. say 3 years at 3.3 million?
Six forwards, two defensemen, 14.725 in cap space
Hampus Lindholm is the elephant in the room. I think Vatanen's new contract has set the standard. I don't think Anaheim will give him more than 5.5. If Murray sticks to his guns all the way to camp. He can probably get a bridge deal at 5 million a year. The real assignment is finding a 7th defender for less than a million dollars. Holzer cost us .750 last year. Jordie Benn is an interesting thought. He was only .700 for Dallas last year, but he's entering prime years and might want more money. I'm confident the Ducks can find someone for .725 if Murray waits long enough. I'll call it a training camp invitee for .725. Anyone happy for an NHL job will be happy to take that price.
Six forwards, nine million in cap space.
Now it gets wild. Rickard Rakell is the big issue. If Murray again presses this all the way to August, I think he can get Rakell down to 3 million. Brandon Pirri has struggled with injuries that have limited his offensive numbers. I can't see his contract demands being too steep. Still, he's some of the only offensive punch in the system at the forward position. I bet he can settle for a one-year, show-me contract at 1.75 to 2 million. Let's call it 2 million, because I'm confident that these two players will split 5 million. Although, it's possible Ricky gets a larger cut of that 5.
I know I'm in the minority, but I liked Christ Stewart's work a lot. He was a reliable bottom 6 forward who's skill game is present enough to be considered quality depth. He was 4th on the team in p/60. I think he will take less money if we offer him security. In fact, Stewart will be one of many bottom 6 forwards I would target with the goal of offering longer, say 2-3 year, contracts and limited no-trade clauses. I think the ability for slightly older depth forwards to scratch 5-8 teams off the trade list every year will be very appealing. It makes little difference to Anaheim, because we just need the quality forwards to help get us through the season and be cheap until a contract like Bieksa's comes off the books. If we offer Stewart that level of security, I wonder if we can get him down to 1.25. I'd also be interested in bringing back Mike Santorelli at .800 million; I thought he played well as a bottom line winger.
I think we should definitely see if Mike Richards could be had for close to Stewart money, or even slightly more at 1.5. I'd also explore Jarret Stoll, Viktor Stalberg, and Ryan Carter (who was a thrifty .625 cap hit) as 4th line options. Stoll would be a cheaper alternative to Richards, likely less than a million. It's important that these final forwards be players with penalty kill experience, because Silfverberg was our second most used forward on the penalty kill and we need to replace those minutes. I'll put the final numbers on forward spending as Rakell at 3, Pirri at 2, Stewart at 1.25, Richards at 1.5 and Santorelli at .8. By my math that leaves .725 for another forward coming out of training camp.
The lineup would look something like this
7thD @ .725
I'd like to point out that I didn't sacrifice any of the defensive prospects, which means the Ducks could still try to move a Shea Theodore and their top pick for a top flight forward prospect who might be able to be called up when Lupul inevitably gets hurt.
I don't think that lineup is anything other than a fringe Cup contender, and probably only on its very best day. Still, it could be invigorating and be better at scoring than some of our previous offerings. I'm not sure Stewart would be a fit on that third line, but he could be a fit up top when Lupul goes down. I tried to be as uncreative as possible in filling out the bodies on the roster, because I didn't want to put too much strain on hypothetical Murray.
Additionally, this was more an exercise to show that the Ducks could keep the young D and ice a competitive roster. I think it would be just as wise to give up some of the young D assets for a young scoring forward on an ELC who could be as effective as Stewart. There are multiple combinations that might work, as long as there are a few forwards who are costing less than 1 million and couple others who don't cost more than 1.5 or 1.25.
I know we'd love to chase the Okposos and Ladds of the free agency world, but I don't think that's feasible unless Murray can unload some combination of Bieksa, Despres and Kesler.
What this roster does do is buy time and show that keeping the core together can be done. It's just a matter of creativity.